Rock lake from the ridge to Rock Mountain
Could you have a more genetic name for a peak? It’s like “Blue Lake” or “Round Lake” or “Mount Peak” (okay, the last one’s kind of funny, and in their defense, it was “Mount Pete” until a bunch of people screwed it up). And Rock Lake is kind of an oxymoron, it’s like naming a peak Water Peak. You can’t have a lake of rocks. It’d be weird. Anyway, enough Monday morning ramblings. Back after a few weeks without any new trails or climbs since Torment/Forbidden! Here are the stats.
Distance: ~11 miles
Weather: 50’s and foggy, eventually sunny
Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
Did I Trip: No but (spoiler alert) I peed on a wasp nest and you can imagine how that went
Starting out in forest
We were originally planning on Lake Edna at my insistence (and I fantasized about tacking on some cragging since we’d be right off Icicle Creek Road), but decided halfway there that weather looked okay around Stevens Pass and we settled on Rock Peak, which Chelsea found on wta’s Hike Finder Map. My expectations were low. It was just a hike, pictures I had seen were mediocre, and I had wanted the alpine feel above tree line that I don’t trust Route 2 to deliver. But driving 2 hours instead of almost 3 was enticing, and I didn’t want to push it, so Rock Mountain it is! We decided to approach via the Snowy Creek Trail, which was a shorter and less steep(!) trail compared to the Rock Lake approach. We weren’t planning on a lake. In fact I didn’t even realize there was a lake there.
Fall foliage (credit: Chelsea)
The trailhead is 15-20 minutes past the Lake Valhalla trailhead, over a lower, lesser known Rainy Pass. My car got a wash scraping past all of the dewey slide alder hanging over the forest road. I hope you don’t care too much about your paint job. Amazingly, mine stayed mostly intact. We pulled over at the trailhead next to a car with a bumper sticker informing us that we should EAT MORE KALE! I’m working on enjoying salads and I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months, but kale is… kale is still gross. Bleck.
The meadow! Hope those clouds clear
I wondered at where the rest of the road went, and we started hiking. It was wet at first, the past day had been pouring rain and everything was still wet. Rocking my yoga pants (yup), I wasn’t thrilled about the dew. Luckily the overgrown trail didn’t last long though, and soon enough we were in the woods. There’s a trail split with a sign a little over a mile in, and while I couldn’t entirely tell which way the signs were pointing, I can tell you that if you want the quickest way to Rock Mountain, keep going straight.
Fiery red plants. No idea what these are
We were soon dumped into a meadow full of brilliantly red plants and yellow grasses. It’s fall! Fuck, it’s fall. I started snapping pictures. The meadow is a tease, while you can see the ridge you’re aiming for across open grassy slopes, the trail dips back into the forest and starts to switchback up. Around the third southeastern switchback there is a wasp nest. We’ll return to that in a few hours. Also, some species of plant up there smells like poop. I suggested that it might literally be poop, but Chelsea wasn’t convinced. There can’t be that much poop around.
I believe that is Labyrinth Mountain… I could be wrong
Switchbacks usually annoy me, but not here. They were short and mellow, and gorgeous once you hit the grassy slopes. Up and up with surprisingly good views (Minotaur Lake and Labyrinth Peak look awesome!) and easy traveling with a party of two (the kale fans!) below us for scale, and eventually we hit the ridge, where the trail goes in both directions. Head right to get to the summit of Rock Mountain.
This is what the inside of a ping pong ball looks like, if it has a peak and a cairn
From the flattish ridge you can look down on Rock Lake, which was a surprise to me since I didn’t know it was coming. It’s surprisingly pretty, especially with the fall foliage all around it. The ridge heading east from Rock Mountain might qualify as dramatic too, sharp steep rock stark against the sky and the rolling hills of Route 2. Anyway, we went left to hit the summit, and just our luck: socked in at the top. Inside of a ping pong ball. We took a few great summit selfies and decided to head down since it was chilly in the wind. On the way down, the cloud(s) blew through, and everything was back in view. Hey, we got up here in 2 hours, want to head down to the lake? Hell yes! Chelsea’s awesome.
The best of the summit selfies (“where’s your nose guard?!”)
Heading to the more colorful end of the ridge
We went to the opposite end of the ridge where the trail switchbacked down the opposite side we had come up, through some ridiculously red foliage. We moved quickly, until “HUCKLEBERRIES!!!!!” I looked at my feet. Huckleberries everywhere! Holy shit I forgot about berries! We started double fisting berries left and right, someone has to starve out the bears right? We finally continued down to the lake, laughing at our purple faces and hands. Worth it.
Huckleberries!!! Go go go go go!
We arrived at the lake and set up to have snacks. I ran over to the side to attempt to get a picture with lake and fall foliage. We feasted on baked goods from Sultan Bakery, cheese, crackers, and happy corn mixed with chocolate covered pretzels which was a surprisingly delicious combo (and paired well with the surprisingly pretty lake). Eventually we knew we had to head back up, and stood back up ready to fight off the lactic acid in our legs. Ugh. And I had to pee, but wasn’t going to do it near running water, since I’m the idiot who often ends up drinking from that water.
Fall huckleberries! I considered filling a bag but realized none actually would make it into the bag.
Heading up was frequently interrupted by more photo breaks, more blueberries I MEAN HUCKLEBERRIES (Chelsea feels strongly about this: blueberries are east coast, huckleberries are west coast, get it right), debates over what was a squirrel and what was a chipmunk, and a family of very brave ptarmigans that didn’t give a shit about us. Back at the ridge we took one last look at the views and headed back down the switchbacks, hitting forest before we knew it. We stopped to delayer, and I remembered that I had to pee.
So I ducked behind a tree slightly below the trail, just next to the meadow. I heard the low hum of wasps, reminiscent of our beehives back in Boston. Ha, it’d be funny if you peed on a wasps’ nest. I looked around. No wasps, just a fat fly being a pest. I pulled up my leggings and walked off. It took about six steps before I felt the pinching all over my legs. Fuck. Definitely bees. I shot towards Chelsea, hopping on one foot while crushing bees with my bare hands. “Shit!!! Bees!” My fingernails were full of wasp gunk. Good thing I didn’t cut my nails MOM. “Chelsea!! Are there any left on my legs?! Tell me if there are any left on my legs!!” My three layers of windbreaker, sweater, and shirt were too powerful for wasps to break through. But my yoga pants were no match. My legs were toast.
“You aren’t allergic right?” Chelsea asked, being responsible. “No, they’ll just get itchy and puffy and I’ll whine about it” I said. “Are you sure? Because one time someone told me they weren’t allergic and they ended up being very allergic.” I mean I don’t know I haven’t been stung by a bee since like middle school but it was never that bad? We’ll find out. I hobbled down the trail. The meadow wasn’t as impressive the second time around, either because we had seen so much better on the ridge or maybe because my brain was full of wasp venom.
Looking back across the lake at our snack spot, bottom right, and Rock Mountain, center right
The rest of the hike was less eventful. Neither of us tripped (Chelsea’s nimble, I just got lucky and paid my dues in wasp stings instead of stubbed toes and facefuls of dirt). We passed the kale fans on the way back, who were surprised to see us coming from behind. I was too happy to be back at the car where I could lay off the legs.
Oh, this gets to the other interesting part! We’re driving just past the Valhalla trailhead on the way down, and Chelsea starts gasping and pointing. Speechless. I look where she’s pointing and slowly brake the car. A huge. Fucking. Tree. Is slowly falling across the road. The entire thing was in slow motion, and it didn’t make a sound, it didn’t shake the ground, it’s like the whole world was suspended watching this monster snap and tip.
Timber! Chelsea for scale.
I was stopped in the middle of the road. Who gives a shit? We walked towards the tree. I don’t have tow straps, or a saw. I have straps that I use with my roof rack, we could try using those as tow straps? Or maybe with enough people we could roll it? Or, it’s soft enough maybe we can chip away enough to just make a ramp and drive over it. Everyone was brainstorming immediate ideas. The man in the truck behind us tried levering it with another branch. It wouldn’t budge, even with all of us.
Amazingly, at that instant, here comes a decked out pick up truck in the other direction. This guy’s gotta have something. He hops out of the car. “I have tow straps! We can move this.” Woo! He loops the straps around the log just beneath a knot so it doesn’t slip off, turns on the 4wd, and beautifully pulls the log out of the way. No hesitation, no directions needed, smooth as butter. The woman with him laughed. “This is probably making his day. He’s loving this.” I get it, I would too. Hell I’m proud just jumping other people’s dead batteries, wait until I tow someone.
MVP making sure we got home before dark and still had time to stop for dinner!
We all cheered after he moved it. We hopped back in the car. I was weirdly shaken, if I didn’t drive like a granny we could have been right under it when it fell. It’s unnerving seeing something so massive just topple like that without any wind or outside influence, it turns out it’s just dead on the inside and no one knew.
Happy to be back on hte highway where no trees could fall on me, we sped along Highway 2 and stopped at a Vietnamese fusion place for dinner. They had this amazing lychee drink, it’s worth stopping there just for that. I got a burger with guac and bacon, and it was delicious. Post hike/climb/falling tree survival meals are always amazing. I had even forgotten about my legs. I woke up the next morning and it looked like I had been peppered with paintballs from ass down, and my right eye (only my right eye) was swollen. Cool, let’s go crush it in society. Where are my sunglasses, and can I wear them indoors?
Update: Bee stings have turned purple. Either I have scratched them to the point of bruising (possible), or I am dying.
Looking back up at Rock Mountain and its rocky arm from the ridge